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Monday, 24 December 2012

Looking differently

It's Christmas eve and I am sat very quickly typing up a Blog post before the bourbon sets in! I wanted to write an article based upon this piece of research published this week. However rather than write about human evolution and the aggressive nature of our species, pondering on whether this is something that is still evident - having been shoved around a few times in Christmas shopping I can say it is. As well as wondering whether we should be ashamed of the fact that we are a species that has survived most likely through baser instincts and notions as opposed to the cerebral and more insightful creatures we tend to paint ourselves as.

Instead however - and because it's Christmas so I wanted to write something a little more cheery - I came across the following idea while trawling through the internet (yes the whole internet!). Now please don't shout at me I am only re-posting what someone else has said - and probably not 100% accurately.

"Pollen is basically plant sperm, people get hayfever from it! Which means hayfever is pretty much an STD from plants. Added to that the fact that we don't want to be covered in plant sperm. So we are getting STD's from trees that are trying to sexually assault us!"

Now I am not saying that is true but it is an interesting way of looking at things. Just like the research into the evolution of the human hand, most people look at it and see an appendage for using and manipulating tools. However look at it another way and it is a weapon, and an effective one. Even though I still believe that humans evolved basically because of this:

It is the art of looking at things in multiple ways that makes us. It's like the glass half full/half empty example. There is the expectation that I should say the glass is half full - after all I am trying to be positive as much as possible in my blog. However I am a scientist and I really like this idea:

Which is it, if you think about it. The point I am trying to make in this blog is that we need in life and in teaching and in science to always be looking at the world in different ways.

It's a little likes the people/person who came up with this:

A year ago I started this blog as a way of looking differently at my working day. That is why the name of the blog is 'Good things in life' I was originally aiming to look at the good things in my day and through that improve my perception of being a teacher. As anyone who has regularly read this will know it has worked and that I love what I do now.

Now I am not saying we should look at the world too differently (we don't want a parallax error - the only bit of science my Dad seems to know about!) however perhaps a different thought is needed.

So just like the people who looked at the hand and thought 'I wonder why that evolved in the way it did to be different to other great ape hands' or looked at the amount of data transmitted in a sperm and related it to electronic data transmission I feel we need to start looking at the same things in a more subtle way.

Just like Christmas and all the people wandering around and complaining about not having sorted their presents sorted, surely they are not looking at the holiday in the right way?

That said I am going to wish you all a Merry Christmas and I will blog again in the Happy New Year!

Keep happy, keep going and keep looking for the 'Good things in life'!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Last Week of Term Mixed Bag

Well we made it just about, Christmas is in sight and a long over due two week break stretches before us like some form of heaven (if there is such a thing).

I had planned a blog on some results from my year 9's however on reflection - and during the writing - I decided to write it up formally as some action research. I know get me trying to be all swish!

Anyway as I have very little left in the tank and much less creativity now that my main focus is missing I thought I would comment on two stories from this week.

And not the end of days predicted for Friday! I have been hearing this rubbish for 3 years from students now and it has gotten so very old so very quickly it does my head in. Although the best was hearing a year 8 explain what he would do if the world did end on Friday...

First story is this one to do with fracking. Now i am not going to talk about the merits of fracking as an energy source as I am not really qualified to weigh the pros and cons of it too seriously. I am concerned that this smacks of short term ism again. Once again the solution seems to be non-renewable fossil fuels rather than developing more renewable forms. Like I said I am not going to discuss the fuel source itself. Rather once again (from the sounds of it) we are going to go ahead with a technology without really considering the environmental impact. Now I am not saying we should not use it but do we know what the long term wide scale impact will be? Especially as I am sure I read somewhere that most of the sites for fracking will be greenbelt (or greenfield) land. Something just doesn't ring right with me here.I'd love for things to not be so determined by finances and for people to make more informed decision on what might be best in the long term. Yes I know its wishful thinking!

It's like we have not learnt any of the lessons from our industrial past. Next they will be saying that there is going to be new nuclear power plants in Somerset!


This reminds me of a conversation with a TA this week where we were talking about tsunami's and natural disasters and it made me wonder if that was the Earth's immune system. Maybe we have our place in the world completely wrong and we are no more than bacteria causing an immune response?

I wish things were not so determined by finances and people could make a more informed decision. Yes I know its wishful thinking!

Something to mull over!

Next on my stuff that caught my magpie like eye this week is this story about the X-37B space plane. Now this caught the attention of one of my year 9's so much he went and measured just how big it would be. It blew his mind that something so small could be in the air for so long (469 days on the last flight - epic!).  This lead to speculation as to what it is for - personally I find it hard to see past it being a spy drone - and a conversation about space travel and the future of our species going into space. Which unfortunately is something I do not think I will be able to ever afford if the stories about the cost of private space flight are to be believed, well if Britain ever catches up with other countries. Although my Dad sent me a picture of the Virgin Galactic space vehicle and it does look awesome! So maybe... However at the minute I console myself with the very excellent Zooniverse and their planet hunters website which really piques the interest of those students who like space.

Speaking of people who like space it was a shock to hear of the passing of the great Sir Patrick Moore. I watched the last Sky At Night he did before he died and found his message about next months programme very moving. He was one of those people who's life stories seem made up.

I remember seeing him on Room 101 (as well as him being the Gamesmaster), I can't remember what he put in the room but I do remember this at the end!


I'll finish with something for Dr Chris Linott's comments on Sir Patrick Moore;

'In short, Sir Patrick dedicated his life to talking about astronomy at any opportunity - not out of a desire to make a name for himself or to further an agenda, but because he thought the world would be a better place if he did so.'

Surely that is the best reason for doing anything?

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Using Webcams in Lessons

OK so while making this video I came across a PowerPoint I wrote for a CPD session on using webcams as cheap visualisers in lessons.

So without further ado I thought I would share some ways in which I have used these before. There is also a small section on data loggers so I might include that as well (I am too kind I know!).

So here is my set up at home...

It is basically a cheap webcam held in a clamp stand, the web cam was about £4 and the clamp (with boss head) was £15 off eBay. So altogether this was less than £20 to buy. Compared to more traditional visualisers on Amazon which can cost into the hundreds of pounds. Curiously flexicams seem to have come down in price to about £40 which is good! I also am aware that some visualisers have specialist software in them, however I am looking at plug and play situations to allow teachers to quickly show work.

So other than filming experiments and time lapses what other use is there to webcams in lessons?
The one I tend to use is in the showing of exemplar work - normally by just opening up webcam software and using the laptops built in camera to show when a student has completed a piece of work to a high standard.

Yes the second one is my own model of a neuron! Great isn't it...

However the power of using a visualiser for showing students work is when you annotate the work to show either good practise or ways of improving.

I know what your going to say, 'does that take long?' well no it doesn't. Especially if you copy the arrows and just paste them into the picture. It saves on repeating instructions and on drawing out diagrams on a whiteboard (or searching for a suitable one online). Plus it has the added power of being students work, students love to know that their work is being shown off - most students anyway!

Actually I summed this up quite nicely here;

Right now a very quick note on data loggers - this is more for science/sports teachers but I really love using them (and they always come up as an exam answer for improvements in methods!).

Now I often use them in small quick practicals where gathering data and manipulation of data can show something cool - melting ice, sound at different parts of the school, ambient temperature around the human body. 

As well as the classic heart rate...

What follows is a comparison of two heart rate graphs. One of a 16 year old year 11 student drinking and energy drink. The other of me drinking a cup of water.

They may not be repeatable or the most accurate graphs in the world but one thing the did was to spark a debate among my class and get the students questioning just what chemicals they are putting into their body and the long term effects it may have.

As well all know getting students to actively think for themselves and consider the merits of evidence is always a hard task. So I took it for the win!

It made me feel like...

Although in this instance I didn't!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Staying excited by your subject

I write this while in the middle of a massive day of procrastination which I have cunningly disguised as illness (its is 2:30 pm and I am still in pjs!). In truth I have been considering this and how to word it as a piece of advice for a while but have always felt it is something that we in practical subjects can showcase more. Yes I am aware that is a massive sentence. Yes I am aware I need to explain myself more. Did I mention I was ill?

By ill I mean I have a sore throat.

Anyways the buzz following my 'demonstration' with the Bunsen burner (should be Faraday burner) and Van der Graaf generator (still need to see if they were a good band or not) has just about abated  Although students keep trying to get me to 'dance' again. Which is a weird situation to be in.

Before I get any more distracted let me get back on track with what I am trying to say. I have noticed that colleagues of mine as well as yours truly are very excited by our subject - which you would expect we are all geeky science types after all. However the point of this blog is do we show it?

I know I do, in small experiments and demonstrations and showcasing new science discoveries - which always seem to be relevant to what I am teaching - with my classes. This I feel is a great way of making science current and relevant. A physics teacher at our school recently produced and excellent display of the physics of angry birds which is epic on a grand scale. She claims there is more to add to it but I will share a picture of it when she has completed it (with her permission naturally).

Another colleague is in the process of planning a series of murals to brighten up our fairly drab science labs. I imagine the opportunity for students to paint the science rooms will be too good for most of them to resist and as a result they will jump at the chance help out.

The reason I use these two examples is that being excited by your subject isn't just in doing the subject it is in the way your share it and the learning that can create.

For example my other half is a primary school teacher and her class are currently doing Greek myths. As part of this she is sharing a modern take on the Greek myth (Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief) and have gotten her students to write their own myths to very good effect.

I honestly think that in a world where everything is happening quicker and instantaneous knowledge of gratification is more and more the accepted norm, you have to show your students that your subject is important by displaying why it is important to you first and foremost.

There will always be classes who just want to get through school as quickly as possible because it is an inconvenience to them. However I do honestly believe that a lot of students who leave primary school keen and able very quickly loose that want to learn and engage because teachers don't seem excited by their subject anymore. It is hard and the demands of the job are increasing day by day but in my (limited) experience the best teachers I have come across are the ones who gather students up in their enthusiasm for their subject time and time again.

If none of what I have said makes sense or you don't agree with me well I will put it down to my being ill.

Off to mark some tests and time lapse a resurrection fern unfolding, because I am that cool!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Size of a Cow

*Disclaimer before I get into trouble with people I work with, this is not about anyone or any work place in specific!*

Got that? Good lets continue.

Just to remind you, not about anyone or any place.



The reason why I need to make sure is because I want to tackle a fairly controversial thing. I have no answers nor do I claim to have this sorted myself. However here goes.

Teachers have a habit of making their issues seem more than they are - building up our problems to the size of a cow, if you will.

Now we teachers are in a curious position, everyone (in most cases) has been to school so think they have an idea what we do and how we should do it. Especially politicians it would seem. We seem to get little sympathy from outsiders owing to our holiday durations it is only when people see the work we do first hand and the students we often have to deal with that they begin to understand the size of the task before us.

I am not though going to complain that the world doesn't understand us. In fact I am not going to complain at all. I am sick of complaints.

Instead I am going to challenge teachers to stop complaining as well.

I have done my usual case of writing and rewriting the next paragraph over and over and I don't have the words to explain why.

The way I see it separating you from the teacher is impossible. It is a vocation and every day we get a little more emotionally involved in our job. However if we focus on the negative and allow that emotion to purely be negative then the job will eat us, I know I have been there.

However if you can shift your focus to the positive, to face each challenge in a positive way then the job gets that little bit more enjoyable and easier.

It is hard, but nothing worth doing is ever easy and yes there will be days where you feel back to square one but we can’t quit. We can’t allow ourselves to be beaten by it.

We may have issues and problems that are the size of a cow and it make me standing on our foot. However we are better than this, we are stronger and more able than we give ourselves credit for.

Personally my way of looking at this is that I know what a good lesson is and how to deliver it. I know how to track my student’s progress and improve it. Everything else in my job is window dressing and likely to change.

The basics, like all core principles however stay the same.

Is that not what we should focus on?

(Yes I realise my blog wandered all over the place, don't complain about it though!)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Power of Demonstration

Picture the scene you are explaining something to your students. You have a practical activity to enhance the learning but the lesson still feels a little flat. You try to do a demonstration that has never worked for you but it doesn't work - predictably- so you put a video of someone doing it correctly on.

You get annoyed at this person on YouTube or whatever being able to do something and make it seem so easy. In this case lighting a Bunsen burner with a Van der Graaf generator.

So you step into the plastic box to isolate yourself. Get a shock on the VdG when you put your hands on it and charge yourself up. After a minute you ask a student to turn the gas on and with one slightly shaky hand you start to touch the Bunsen. You get shocked but are now determined. Your class is drawn in with you because they know you have never done this before. You keep going and after what seems like an eternity (a whole 30 seconds) a flame appears!

In stead of professionally smiling and explaining what has happened your euphoria gets the best of you. You start to dance around the room like a Leprechaun on drugs, the students are laughing and cheering and then you realise one of them has been filming you.

Yet this isn't some sinister students getting one up on a teacher. This was a class who genuinely wanted me (this happened on Tuesday) to succeed. The student e-mailed me the video (which I would love to share but can't as students are in view). It reminded me of the power of a good demonstration. Especially ones that show that you love your subject or that you are showing them something special.

Now people who read my blog know I love the practical nature of science, especially letting students discover scientific principles through experimentation - a practical that doesn't work is just as useful as one that does as students can evaluate it and gain skills experience - but I often neglect the demo as being a second class of practical.

However the success of Tuesdays demo is making me reevaluate my thinking on this area of my teaching.

Especially as the next lesson in my series was to do with the dangers of statics. The the students had spent the next few nights watching my lighting of a Bunsen on FB meant that they all knew the dangers of sparks in areas with fuel vapours (and yes I played Sparks 'this town aint big enough for the both of us' in the lesson).

So I am now going to try and add more demonstrations into lessons especially ones that will either stretch me as a practitioner or link some concepts together. Well that is the aim anyway!

One thing to add to this is that showing work or how to draw things as a demo is just as good. I often use or have used a home made 'visualiser' to show how to draw graph axis in BTEC classes.

For those who don't know the cheapest way to make a visualiser is to use an external webcam (about 2 quid) and a retort stand with a boss head (which you can get for under 15 quid on ebay!). Much cheaper than a several hundred pound visualiser and does just the same job in my opinion.

And just for fun here is a screen grab of my dancing!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Making Progress in Lessons

OK rewrite number 3.

I don't know why I struggle with posts like this, maybe I feel I need to be as perfect in these posts to avoid people telling me that I am talking rubbish. Maybe I just am too hypercritical of my own work. Whatever the reason is I am not looking to rewrite this as quickly as I can so here goes.

As a teacher we are judged on our ability to bring students along in our subjects by scaffolding tasks and information so that they can reach what is predicted to be their achievable grades (all though we all know this is never enough). So... what am I writing about? Well in my NQT year one of the biggest criticisms I faced and had to deal with was the showing of progress in my lessons. Now some people may find this easy to do, others may struggle like I did or maybe the ways I found to deal with this are deemed to be unsuitable or outdated.

So deep breath.

Here we go!

Mini plenaries.

There you go, thank you and goodnight!


At the end of most tasks just check how people are doing. It is that easy. The other way to do this is to have enough differentiated tasks available so that students can work at their own pace. The main thing however is to ensure that you have expectations of what you want the students to do as a bare minimum during the lesson and be willing to reward those who exceed your expectations. If behaviour is your main issue speed up the pace of the class. Set visible timers for students. Have plenty (even if it is too much) of extension tasks - use the further extension tasks to promote creativity in your students (research or if this is the answer what is the question type of things not just more questions).

If you find students struggle to engage with work then make sure your starter tasks tap in to something which you are confident the students can do. Even if it takes the form of a word puzzle or a mini practical. Show the students that they can 'do' what you are trying to get them to do and then move from there. At every stage, where appropriate check what they are doing. Even if it is a case of circling with a pen and ticking work they have completed in lesson (saves on marking at a later date). The important part is to be positive with what they are doing. To show the students that you know what you are on about and that you are able to help them in your subject.

If they are a GCSE class (or similar) then share with them what the examiners might test them on. In short get the students to see that the us and them is you and the students against the exams. Not them against you!

So what things should we remember?

  1. start with something they will know, differentiation is not just making things easier often that leads to boredom
  2. have plenty of tasks and keep the pace high, a lot of behaviour issues can be avoided by providing things for the students to do
  3. extension tasks should be different not just more of the same but harder!
  4. check the students progress regularly and provide positive feedback and comments
  5. be confident with what you are doing, students are more savvy at sniffing out nerves than we think, if you are confident they feel more secure in your teaching and in my experience this makes lessons go more smoothly
  6. finally be approachable, willing to listen to them and try to look like you are enjoying your lessons, this may sound silly but students tend to find these things important so go a long way in teaching!

I know most of what I have said is basic practise for people and that there are many layers on top of this that we all do during our lessons anyway but whenever I have a bad lesson I always try to revert back to the same formula - like a default reset. I often ask myself 'where do they start?, where do they need to get to?, how can I get them there best? and how do I know/can I show when they are there?'

If I can answer that question then surely you I'm doing my job properly?

Well if I'm not no-one since my NQT has said anything!

As ever comments are welcome providing they are not just saying I am wrong or rude!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Half term times

Aaaaaaaand breathe!

The 8 week slog to half term has come and gone. Half term is half way over. Next stop Christmas.

It has been a busy few weeks for me. Especially the final week of the term. Trip to Dover castle (amazing and pretty haunting in the mist) this was followed by a year 10 parents evening (I have 3 year 10 classes) which meant that my day at school lasted until 7.45. Oh and I had notification that I was called to an interview too.

Which meant my Wednesday was taken up with interview preparation. Thursday was the interview day (which I got). Friday - even though it was the end of term - was hand in notice and feel a bit stressed day. Followed by football which was a nice de-stress.  Through is a quick city break to visit friends in Bristol as well as a quiet weekend recovering and before you know it I am facing down Wednesday evening with a to do list still looming over my head.

Ah well could be worse I could still be tired!

Right with not much to blog about - as you might be able to tell - I am going to go and organise my marking. I say organise I mean triage. I say triage I mean move piles around.

Fun stuff!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

To be seen or not to be seen?

Observations, a word to send shivers down the spine of most teachers. I know when I first started my NQT year I didn't mind observations. In my mind they were a way of people assessing my performance and providing feedback to allow me to improve. Unfortunately they ended up feeling like a stick being used to beat me. I know that sounds like hyperbole but that is how it felt. From a fairly strong starting point feedback from observations became more about what I wasn't doing or needed to improve rather than what I was good at and how I could build on it.

I also felt that rather than advice being given a lot of the time my feedback was based around my observers trying to get me to teach in their style. Something I now know is a deficiency in the observers ability to advise rather than it be that I was teaching 'wrong'. Eventually I started getting seen by teachers from outside of the department and the NQT process. Surprise surprise actually my teaching wasn't as pants as I had been led to believe it was. Sure there was still stuff to work on, there always is, but I wasn't the poor teacher I had been made to feel I was.

Often I felt that people could only say 'good subject knowledge' in the plus box and the rest was negative. Whether it was or not is not the point really it was the feeling of inadequacy that followed me about which dragged me down. Teaching is very much a run of form type of job I feel, if you can't keep on top of things it quickly can overwhelm you. The difference that someone having some belief in you can make is amazing. I know this seems a bit disjointed at the moment but I am trying to get down as much as I can remember of my feelings from that time.

I found that as people from other departments observed me - and in lessons that were not an 'OFSTED/observation special' that I know some teachers have - the positives began to come back. People had good things to say about my practice. Which was nice. This meant my mood began to improve and with it my general demeanor. Which also made me want to do more in the preparation of my lessons and also more around the school, which really helped improve my relationship with students.

Switch forward half a year, NQT out of the way and now at a new school. The school still has the formal 1 lesson long observations (3 times a year for performance management) but it also runs 'snapshots'. Now it is important to get the difference between snapshots and observations right - I keep getting corrected when I refer to snapshots as an observation. An observation, I am informed, is a lesson observation that goes towards your performance management. A snapshot is a 20 minute observation of your teaching that is designed to be a supportive process to allow people to be made aware of points where they could improve their performance. It is not related to performance management and it is not something that could be held against you for competency purposes. So is not an observation.

Still following? Apparently there is some union issue or something to do with them. I don't mind the system because so far people have liked my teaching and given me some good pointers with which to improve. However I think that is where the rub is at. If you are secure with your teaching you don't mind being observed. If you have a tricky class, or a tough area of the curriculum to teach, or are having a bad day/week/month/term the last thing you want is the threat of a snapshot (which are drop ins with no warning). So I can understand why people might not like them, especially as they are 'random based on rooming' which has meant some people getting seen 2-3 times a week (I got snapshot'd 6 times in my first term at my school). However for the record I don't have any issue with them - I have been seen twice so far this half term and one was part of a departmental review - and like the system as it seems to bring out the best in me.

The marking of the snapshots is interesting too. The OFSTED criteria has been converted to a 100 point system - a core 70 marks and a further 30 for additional teaching practice. When I started the basic requirement was for the core 70 marks which would equate to a satisfactory lesson. However now OFSTED have changed satisfactory to notice to improve that requirement has been bumped up to 85. A requirement that you don't have to fulfill as this is purely a supportive system and not one that you are being judged on. Still following?

In honesty I usually make or get near to the required level (70 last year 85 this) based on the additional section. Things like high expectations, use of different media, interaction with students, interesting and engaging activities etc. What is better for me as a practitioner is that I have managed to iron out the inconsistency that plagued my early teaching. Most of my scores from last year were around the same mark. Which is good! Well not good old school satisfactory, but it is good that I am more consistent! However it also helps highlight things that I need to work on - making sure students know their target levels, using data to fully differentiate work, using a wide range of AFL techniques, using the schools behaviour management policy quicker - these are all areas of constant development for me (there are more, many many more).

So what have I learnt from a PGCE, NQT and a school where snapshots mean you could get seen at any time (basically what do I know about people judging my teaching based on being judged a lot).

  1. Be consistent. I have retyped this 3 or 4 times to try and make is sound less patronising. On a PGCE you have a fair amount of time to plan and deliver high quality lessons. You aren't afforded that time as a classroom teacher. Some people used to get around this by having a 'OFSTED lesson' to pull out for observations etc. My advice, don't do that. Make sure you are consistent with your classes, that you are attempting to deliver a good a lesson as you can each day. I know its hard work and tiring and I appreciate that it is not always possible but in the long term it will pay off. Especially when you have taught that lesson a few times and have worked the kinks out of it. It will seem like hard work at first but I promise you, your lessons will go better and your observations will reflect that. 
  2. Mark regularly. A bit of a no brainier but regularly just checking of books really helps. Not just does it help when someone comes to observe you but it also helps with your teaching. You do not have to do streams of high quality marking - once a week pick a lesson and go to town on it - but just make sure you are marking regularly.
  3. Don't over talk. The temptation during an observation is to talk to much. I think it is a trying to keep control thing but it is something someone will pick up on very quickly. Get the students up to speed, get them working and be quiet for a bit. 
  4. Don't just teach from the front. Circle and check their work, remember we are taught teaching is not telling (see above) so get in there and see how they are doing. This also helps show the relationship you have with your class.
  5. Do not be afraid to change. Classic PGCE/NQT mistake is to cling to the lesson plan like a life raft. If it isn't working change it. If there needs to be more instruction give it, if you need to change the task then do it. Do not be afraid to deviate it is a higher order teaching skill and you probably do it all the time anyway!
  6. AFL AFL AFL. So important I will say it thrice, you probably use mini-plenaries and directed questioning or show me white boards or traffic lights or a thousand other AFL techniques during your lessons. Make sure you don't forget them just because someone is in the back of the room. One thing I always used to get pulled up on was showing the progress of my students during the course of an observation. If you stick some AFL after an activity you are signposting it. It is just good teaching and learning to be able to know where you classes are at during a lesson.
It is important to remember that even though someone will judge what you are like as a teacher based upon their observation of you it is just a one off lesson. It is easy to let that thought bury you but don't, turn it on your head and think 'I am a good teacher I am going to show this person' and go for it. Like I said though be consistent. I find if you are consistent in your practice the going for it part becomes easier than if you try to look outstanding by having some all singing all dancing lesson that is well outside your comfort zone. It is also important to remember that we are always improving and developing as teachers and you need to make sure you are getting constructive feedback from any observation you have. A 'well done outstanding lesson' is about as much use as 'that really wasn't good' if it doesn't allow you to improve!

And the you have it. I will leave with 3 great pieces of advice/quotes I have had during my development. 
  • 'you like science because you look at something and go 'that's weird why does it do that' if you can get that moment in your students you don't need to worry about engagement' 
  • 'try to make sure that most of your lessons are at least good, then once a week for each group really pull out the stops for an outstanding lesson, it will stretch you but also keep your groups interested in the subject'
  • (teacher in the last year before retiring) 'why would I want to get feedback from some arse inspector who hasn't been in a classroom properly for years, I know I'm a good teacher and nothing some moldy old fart can say will change that'
I really like the last one but then I just got 95/100 so I currently feel as secure in my teaching as he did (he was an absolute legend though). As ever thoughts or comments welcome, providing they are constructive. 

Roll on half term!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The days grow shorter and the nights are getting long

Feels like we're running out of time
Every day it seems much harder tellin' right from wrong
You got to read between the lines

Don't get discouraged, don't be afraid, we can
Make it through another day
Make it worth the price we pay

Triumph - Fight the good fight

Awesome tune, but also so very true at this time of year.

It is darker in the mornings and the evenings. Energy is getting sapped, enthusiasm is waning and the workload seems to be increasing.

However we are 1 week and a day from half-term and it has been a long old term so far.

So keep going, keep planning and marking and differentiating and being creative and having a laugh with colleagues.

Soon it will be half term. Then it will be Christmas and everyone knows it is Easter and quickly Summer then. Easy days!

So remember now, when it feels hardest of all;

Fight the good fight every moment
Every minute every day
Fight the good fight every moment
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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Some Old Experiments

I know, I know, almost a week and no blog post.

Shocking isn't it how time can fly when you are not paying attention. That said though this weekend has actually felt like two days. Normally it feels like an afternoon!

Trawling through some old photo's on my phone I found some old experimental set ups from my previous science club, as well as some photos and developments with the current experimental garden (still need to think of a cool name for that before 'gardening club' sticks). Being the sharing kind I thought I would write about them in this post. So here goes...

First experiment was following an article here a summary of which is that you might be able to get some electricity from plants. As you can see we managed to get some readings from our flower beds;

Essentially the set up is simple enough. Find some graphite rods or conductors and jam them in the ground around a plants roots. You will get some charged particles kicked out by the roots and you can pick those up on a multimeter set to millimps. 

Experiment number two involves putting a shaped piece of sponge in some sand! Around the sponge you should apply a liberal amount of bath salts. It also helps if when you bury the sponge you pour water with dissolved bath salts around it. Then leave it for about 3 weeks (coarse sponges work best). After about 3 weeks dig out your sponge and hey presto a (almost) fossil! 

What will happen is the bath salts enter into the sponge and crystalise. The process isn't perfect and any major messing about with the sponge will damage the 'fossil' but it's still a fun practical. 

So is making DNA! No I don't mean the extraction of DNA from kiwi's or strawberries...

This one uses sweets to create a model of the structure of DNA! 

Always goes down well! Especially if you have some spare sweets at the end.

Another one, keeping with the DNA theme is the making of protein models using strips of coloured paper. In this one I make each person in the group an organelle or molecule in the protein synthesis process. This helps consolidate the roles of tRNA, Ribosomes etc in the students minds. The small models behind the paper ones were earlier demonstrations to show the folding of proteins and how they have a specific shape based upon the sequence of amino acids. 

I have already blogged on my phototropism experiment with cress, I have set up two new experiments currently. One is testing the growth of cress in water compared to 'tea' water and the other is a dug transect of land to see any succession that might occur. Although I have a feeling grass will be the only thing growing there.

I will blog more on the tea experiment when I have results from it. Other than that my experimental garden is now starting to take shape with more plants in the greenhouse and propergators set up. 

I'm gonna need a bigger greenhouse I think! Once the pond is finally finished I want to build an amphibian shelter and an insect house like these.

Though completing the pond is the first priority! Having said all of this although extra curricular activities and experiments are amazing. They still don't protect from answers like this;


To finish here are some pictures from being out and about today to lift the mood.

Enjoy your extra curricular, whatever it is!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Testing Phototropism

Another long day and so to relax I will blog.

Or try to! Keep getting distracted by March of the Penguins. Right game face on, last week I set up an experiment to show my year 9's the effect of phototropism. I will probably show them the photos in tomorrows lesson.

So hello 9Y1!

OK in order to do this experiment you need some seeds- in this example cress that I had grown in an experiment to show hydroponics to my year 10 class.

Hello 10C!

Here is the propagator.

And a close up of the cress in the propagator;

The next job was to take the cress out of one of the wells and place it in a small pot.

A modified plant pot with a hole in the side and the top sealed off. This allows light into the pot by one entrance only. Remember what should happen is that the auxin in the stem causes the shoots to move towards the direction which light is coming from. A time lapse video I took of this movement in some other seedlings can be found here.

The final experimental set up.

And the set up in situ in our greenhouse.

The experiment next to some pepper seedlings we are growing.

After 4 days the cress has clearly started to move towards the light.

And a close up of the cress showing positive phototropism. You can also just make out some slightly yellow leaves on the smaller shoots that haven't been able to get sufficient light during the experiment.

And a slightly different angle showing inside the pot and the yellower leaves more clearly.

And there you have it, a simple experiment to show phototropism. If you set this up on a Friday you should be able to see the effect on the Monday following. I will try and set up an experiment to show the effect of auxin on the stems if the shoot tip is covered etc - like you see in textbooks. 

So wish me look with that one!